Birthday Blues

Another trip around the sun…

Birthdays. They come every year whether we like it or not.

Do you have elaborate celebrations and enjoy every minute? Or are they full of anxiety or sadness? Share yours with another holiday? Reminded of a person no longer around or regrets? Or maybe you’re apathetic and they come and go like any other day, unacknowledged?

birthday cake and balloon

I turned 39 last week and once again had to fight off my own birthday anxiety and disappointment.

For many, myself included, birthdays are great when you are younger: full of joy and excitement. There are often parties, presents, and lots of attention. We count down the days.

If you ask me what my top 10 favorite childhood memories are, more than half of them would be my birthday parties. My childhood celebrations were epic: homemade themed cakes by my mother, large group gatherings where I soaked up the special attention, and even double the celebrations and gifts as I celebrated with my dad’s side of the family separately (divorced parents).

Fast forward and my adult birthday anxiety likely stems from these memories – my later in life birthdays just can’t compare to those memories.

I married a man who doesn’t care one way or the other about birthdays and whose least appreciated love language is gift giving. (Don’t worry he has other redeeming qualities!) Add on two kids and I became the planner of the family and creator of memories which now means I’m often picking my own restaurant and making my own reservations.

I spend the day anxiously awaiting texts and messages full of birthday wishes. If I let my mind wander, it starts playing the narrative that “no one remembered my special day so I’m not special, not worthy, not enough” – see my previous post on my struggle with “enoughness.”

Not to mention I am now in the phase with a very prominent focus of getting older –oh the fear of aging! Thankfully I don’t really feel any of the pressure to accomplish certain things by a specific age like career goals, marriage, kids – or maybe I’ve just passed that phase. But the panic of new wrinkles or gray hairs is real.

But since I’ve started therapy earlier this year and become more aware of my thoughts and triggers, I was determined to break my bad habits, stop the pity party, and be okay with this year’s event.

Here are some of the ways I challenged my own birthday blues:

Start with mindfulness.

  1. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say. Don’t let your mind go there – comparing your Facebook messages, or lack thereof, to Amy’s isn’t helpful. Wishing you had the girls trip or surprise dinner Susie’s husband threw her only breeds resentment.
  2. Recognize the negative feelings that come and breathe through them.
  3. Set realistic expectations, about the day itself and how its recognized, as well as about your body, no matter your age.

Practice gratitude.

  1. Appreciate those who do remember to send you wishes with deep thankfulness.
  2. Relive and cherish happy birthday memories from years gone by.
  3. Give grace to those who many not be great at remembering dates, who don’t have an organized calendar system, or who just don’t place as much stock in birthdays. Tell yourself it is not a reflection on your or their feelings about you.
  4. List out all the things you are grateful for in your life and proud of on your unbirthdays.

Choose your own celebration.

  1. Be selfish. Don’t wait around for others to pick the perfect present or plan a celebration. Do what feels right for you – treat yourself to those shoes, book your own massage, or call a friend to go to lunch. Plus, take advantage of all the places that offer birthday freebies (note: this may take some preplanning to sign up in advance). Here are some great ones!
  2. Focus on someone else. This year, I spent the day chasing down resources to help a friend in need. I also love supporting an organization like The Birthday Party Project which sends age appropriate games, activities, party decor and more all wrapped up in a Birthday in a Bag to a child experiencing homelessness. (Pre-Covid, they also threw them birthday parties!)

So make your next birthday fun again – there is nothing more “happy” than remembering to love yourself.

post-dinner birthday pose
This is 39!